The Surat Police either lack imagination or are extremely prejudiced. Nothing else explains the manner in which they carried out a mock drill against ‘terrorists’ with one of the ‘culprits’ wearing a skull cap. The justification for this stereotyping is decidedly odd — that this is the normal dress for people living in the area. The Gujarat chief minister seems reluctant to take action against these policemen, choosing to say the issue had been dealt with and the chapter closed. But clearly it cannot be closed when the police have blatantly displayed such a biased approach. Terrorists do not come sporting religious or community symbols — the 26/11 Mumbai terrorists were dressed like your average Joe in jeans and T-shirts.
The Surat Police are not alone in trying to portray terrorists as being from a particular community — in this case Muslims. In the Batla House encounter in 2008, the police paraded the suspects after making them wear keffiyehs, a head dress worn by Arab men. It is worrying that the same police in whom prejudice is so deeply ingrained are expected to be even-handed when dealing with other cases. This sort of behaviour alienates a community that already feels under siege, thanks to the antics of extreme Right-wing groups.
The bias on the part of the police has to be sternly discouraged. In fact, those who conducted the mock drill should be brought to book, not let off with a slap on the wrist. A communalised police force will undermine the foundation of our criminal justice system. There are standard rules for mock drills on terror and none of them prescribe that the dress code for the ‘suspects’ should represent any community. Today’s terrorist does not conform to stereotypes and the sooner the police understand this the better. The effort should be to improve policing, enhance intelligence gathering and involve communities in the battle against terror. By demonising any community, the police are making countering terror all the more difficult. Surely, this is not the best outcome from a mock drill.